When Asita Technologies raised $10 million (€11.2m) in business angel funding in 2000, chief executive Wayne Channon was given a mandate to commercialise the "bewildering" array of technologies developed by chief technology officer Angus Goldfinch.
Two years later, Asita is manufacturing Internet-protocol virtual private networking (IP-VPN) appliances aimed at large enterprises and managed service providers. And Channon's focus on securing virtual private networks, a technology gaining increasing market traction, has positioned the company to benefit from several converging trends.
The growing migration of business relationships on to the Internet has made organisations feel far more comfortable about using IP VPNs. The widespread vendor acceptance of the IPSec security standard, which defines a method for securing communication across the Internet, is also reassuring users.
A virtual private network is simply a corporate network that uses the public Internet to carry its traffic. It is a cheap, flexible alternative to leased lines and is being used by an ever growing number of companies to connect disparate offices, factories and mobile workers. However, concerns over security and the complexity of connecting thousands of users has hindered the uptake of VPN technology. Asita claims to have resolved both of these issues and to have built the fastest VPN in the world.
At the heart of Asita's LineSpeed range of IP VPN appliances is its security operating system, an intelligent piece of software that manages applications and funnels data through the firewall and VPN according to a pre-defined policy. The platform includes an array of security and network management features, from a firewall to policy routing tool, and supports third-party security applications. All of these are controlled from a single box and a single web-based interface.
Channon makes some bold guarantees about the security achieved using Asita's product: "It would take the most sophisticated computer 2.4 billion years to crack it."
Asita has also focused on simplifying VPN implementation. A year ago, says Channon, it was "unthinkable" to connect 5,000 mobile workers to a VPN because IT staff had to install software on each device. But installing Asita's technology is easy, says Channon. Once the device is plugged in, the software and configuration is sent directly to the laptop, for example, over the Internet.
Most impressive is Channon's claim that Asita's top of the range VPN is faster by a factor of six, at 2.4 gigabytes per second, than any other on the market. Its firewall, at 4 gigabytes per second, is also the fastest on the market.
Channon tries to play down the challenge of coming up against entrenched market leaders Cisco and Nokia when bidding for contracts. He argues that Asita's technology is a generation ahead of competing IP VPN products, and delivers twice the performance at half the price.
Asita's gruelling release schedule – of major upgrades and minor feature additions – is designed to keep the company ahead of competitors in an industry that is subject to rapid change. But in terms of sales coverage, Asita cannot hope to match the scale of Cisco and Nokia, and has decided to focus on the US market, despite its British roots.
The company is now beginning to build a European sales team, thanks to a $24 million (€26.9m) investment from ETF and Softbank in October 2001. As a result, Channon is confident that the company can generate revenues of between $20 million (€22.4m) and $40 million (€44.8m) in 2002. This is still just a small slice of a highly competitive market, which research group IDC forecasts to grow from $2.3 billion (€2.6bn) in 2000 to $7.5 billion (€8.4bn) in 2005.
Asita, which only finished beta testing in summer 2001, already claims several of the Fortune 50 and large US Internet service providers as customers. If it can maintain this rate of customer acquisition and continue to offer speed and security advantages over rival products, then Nokia and Cisco could have a fight on their hands.